The Bethel Ship John Wesley
As we have seen, floating chapels were established in several major ports during the nineteenth century. The designation "bethel" was common to both facilities and programs dedicated to Christian service and evangelism for visiting and resident seafarers. Bethel ships were an ingenious use for discarded vessels. Moored at piers, their visibility and easy access made such use particularly appropriate. We are fortunate in having both pictorial and verbal descriptions of the first Bethel Ship John Wesley and its successor of the same name a few years later.
Sven B. Newman, Hedstrom's first regularly appointed ministerial assistant in 1851, helps us visualize the interior of the converted brig named the Bethel Ship John Wesley.
The remarkable ship, originally named Henry Leeds, was converted to a church especially for seamen, and its name changed. With the exception of a mast at the bow, others had been removed. The cargo space below the deck had been renovated to serve as a sanctuary completely furnished with pulpit and pews. A room in the bow served as an office. On quarter-deck a cabin had been converted to a class room and a sexton's apartment. On the exterior, the bow was embellished with a carved human figure under the bowsprit. On both port and starboard sides of the bow, identical signs were inscribed -- Bethel Ship John Wesley and an invitation to worship. American, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish flags fluttered in the breezes. High on the remaining mast a blue and white Bethel flag was flown. Light was provided by skylights on the deck. The whole atmosphere was both attractive and inviting. A ramp which rose and fell with the tides, led from the dock to a door on the